BW’s 2022 ‘Funny Girl’ Revival & the “Star is Born” Glow of Julie Benko

On May 4th (~ 2 months ago), FF2 posted my review of standby Julie Benko’s opening night performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.

Although I have seen many Broadway performances, Julie’s performance was a rare chance to actually see a star being born, and watching her debut is a memory I will always treasure. Since then, Julie has earned many more fans. The Broadway community is nearly united in their enthusiasm for Julie, and my review for FF2 is currently my top performing piece of published writing ever.

Guest Post by Mara Sandroff

(Note that Mara is also the author of “Julie Benko Triumphs as Standby Fanny Brice in ‘Funny Girl’” which was posted here on FF2 at the beginning of Julie’s run.)

Two days ago (on 7/12/22), Funny Girl’s producers officially announced the following updates:

  • Beanie Feldstein’s last performance in the role of Fanny Brice will be July 31.
  • Lea Michele’s first performance in the role of Fanny Brice will be September 6.
  • Julie Benko will be playing Fanny Brice through-out the transition month between these two stars (and Julie will also play Fanny Brice at every Thursday evening performance going forward).

While I’m disappointed that Julie will not be assuming the role of Fanny permanently, I’m happy that she will have a full month in the spotlight, and I am also delighted that she also has a go forward role on Thursday nights into the future.

I am grateful to Beanie Feldstein for setting this production in motion. I wish Lea Michele all the best. And I’d also like to extend my congratulations to understudy Ephie Aardema (who made her Fanny debut while Julie was out with COVID). I have heard good things about Ephie too.

Rather than indulging in my own take [on the casting issues], I’d like to focus on a different part of the Funny Girl story.

In the days since the decision was announced, there’s been considerable gossip of many different stripes. Rather than indulging in my own take, I’d like to focus on a different part of the Funny Girl story.

A little after writing my review for FF2, I was in the car with my boyfriend’s mother when the song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” came on. She smiled and recounted how she had listened to the song nonstop when she was growing up. Like Barbra Streisand, she grew up Jewish in a musical family in Brooklyn, and Barbra was an influential role model. She eventually succeeded in her own dreams of becoming a Broadway performer.

The real Fanny Brice was just as influential in her day as Barbra Streisand was in hers. At a time when Jews and other minorities were reduced to the butt of the jokes, Fanny Brice invited audiences to laugh with her and not at her. Please note that Isobel Lennart—who wrote Funny Girl’s book—added this specific distinction between laughing at versus laughing with—to the dialogue in Fanny’s first confrontation with impresario Florenz Ziegfeld.

Hello, Gorgeous!

Fanny Brice helped to create the unique flavor of 20th century Jewish humor that continues to influence today’s 21st century comedy (Jewish and non). Watching her old clips, I’m impressed by how well she melds humor, authenticity, and honesty. As Beanie Feldstein told The Times of Israel way back in April: “Every Jewish woman who wants to be funny and perform and sing owes something to Fanny Brice.” (To read Beanie’s full TTOI interview, see link below.)

I may not be a performer, but Fanny Brice has certainly inspired me.

Though I had been excited to see a Jewish actress play Fanny, I was emotionally unprepared for just how meaningful it would be.

When Julie took her curtain call on her opening night, I was totally farkempt. (That’s Yiddish for tearing up.) Though I had been excited to see a Jewish actress play Fanny, I was emotionally unprepared for just how meaningful it would be.

Even in 2022, Jewish women characters are often reduced to whiny Jewish American Princesses (aka “JAPs”) or given just a few fleeting references to our ethnicity. So both the real-life Fanny Brice and the character as depicted in Funny Girl remain important cultural touchstones. Though some aspects of Funny Girl have not aged well, the story of Fanny Brice’s attempts to find a place for herself as “a bagel on a plate of onion rolls” is as moving as it was when Barbra Streisand said her first “Hello, Gorgeous!” on stage in 1964.

I hope the brouhaha surrounding Broadway’s 2022 Funny Girl revival does not overshadow these aspects of the production. I know I am speaking for many women—especially Jewish women—when I say that even if Funny Girl is not a “perfect” show, it is certainly a show many of us will always be grateful for.

A groisen dank, Fanny. We’re laughing with you—not at you—and we’re so glad you’re still here.

PS: Yes! In case you are wondering, the answer is YES. Yes, I already have tix to see Lea Michele as Fanny Brice in October (right after the end of the Jewish High Holiday season). So, L’Shana Tova, readers. See you next year!

© Mara Sandroff (7/14/22) – Special for FF2 Media®

We Ask the Looking Glass “What Is It…?”

Read more about this whole Beanie Brouhaha in People magazine.

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Click here to read Julia Lasker’s FF2 post Hello, Gorgeous: Our Love Makes Beanie Beautiful.

Click here to read Mara Sandroff’s FF2 post Julie Benko Triumphs as Standby Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.

Click here to read Beanie Feldstein’s full interview with The Times of Israel.

Click here to read Fanny Brice’s obituary in the New York Times.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Kudos to Tyler Schusko for this fabulous photo of Julie’s curtain call! And huge thanks for permission to post. © Tyler Schusko. All Rights Reserved. Follow Tyler aka Ty-le® @_tyler_isms https://twitter.com/_tyler_isms. 

Photo of Fanny Brice was posted by Esther Kruman on Facebook’s Broadway Remembered site on 7/11/12 with the following comment:

This is the problem with Funny Girl. It was never that Fanny Brice wasn’t “beautiful.” It’s that Fanny Brice was Jewish at a time when the industry did not cast Jewish women. She was only viewed as “unattractive” because she didn’t conform to *white* (European/”American”) beauty standards. But of course Funny Girl wasn’t going to tell *that* story.

Sheynem Dank, Esther. We agree.

We’re not sure where Esther found this image. The only match we can find on Google is here. If photo is copyrighted, please notify us immediately = ff2media (at) msn.com. Thanks!

Tags: Barbra Streisand, Beanie Feldstein, Don't Rain on My Parade, Ephie Aardema, Fanny Brice, Funny Girl (1964), Funny Girl (2022), Isobel Lennart, Julia Lasker, Julie Benko, Lea Michele, Mara Sandroff

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